Pirates & Cigars

Where do you go when you want to mash up history, food, coffee, pirates and cigars. Look no further than historic Ybor City in Tampa. Today we took the plunge in 90+ F weather to check out the area that we have heard about for so long. We were not disappointed.

I booked a historic food walking tour. The food wasn’t historic by any means, but the area is a phenomenal lesson in local history. Our guide Ashley (herself a dedicated unapologetic foodie) https://yborcityfoodtours.com is originally from Alabama and transplanted herself in Ybor City 5 years ago without regret. Her passion was contagious and her knowledge impressive.

Our tour starts at the Centro; a large fairly new venue next to the Spanish Social Club (one of many cultural clubs in the area) where we meet in front of the statue of the areas founder http://Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Originally from Spain via Cuba this entrepreneur and visionary settled in what was excellent swamp land and built cigar factories and casitas for his workers http://tampahistorical.org/items/show/117

By offering the American dream, Ybor was able to lure settlers from Germany, Cuba, Italy and even Romanian Jews (who created the beautiful iron works including fencing and entranceway gate). The result was a melting pot of cultures. Each group erected their own social club which provided community services to their members including healthcare, English classes and dance parties (apparently these were legendary in the day and continue to present day). The cigar factories allowed the employees to hire “el lecture” https://whnt.com/community/hispanic-heritage-month/the-historic-role-of-el-lector-in-educating-cigar-factory-workers/ whose role was to stand on a raised platform and read to the employees as they worked. Educating the workers however resulted in some unrest as they realized they were being overworked and underpaid. The concept, however, was ingenious.

The bustling factories enticed an array of related businesses to the area. Cigar box makers and printers of wrappers (largely the Germans), shop keepers and food stores (where the Cuban sandwich was invented), coffee roasters and of course entertainment venues. The Latino influence in the area is the reason that chickens and roosters roam freely (and are protected by law). The Central Park area is a wonderful barnyard of clucking and crowing.

We sampled food and beverage including the famous Cuban sandwich, Latino inspired rice and beans with Pico de Gallo sauce (a nice spicy heat), NY NY pizza (where the Bucs got their post Super Bowl snacks!) and caffe con leche and chicken wings made famous by Guy Fieri in the local brew pub. Two thumbs up all around. No disappointments here.

In one establishment we were seated upstairs in a pseudo loft. What was interesting about it was the moveable bookcase leading to the “spook easy”. Literally a bar with a theme of supernatural. The decor was perfect with its plush high backed red velvet settees and wing chairs. Candelabras with dripping candles. Ouija board and other occult paraphernalia adorned the walls. Recesses filled with skulls and other eerie artifacts. I’m glad we were there during the day! Creepy stuff loses some of its creep in daylight. Nonetheless we felt our neck hairs tingle. They offer special events such as fortune telling and palm reading. Intriguing for sure.

Equally as interesting is the pirate lore. Some say it’s bunk, but the legends are fascinating anyway even if they are someone’s wild imagination. We learned about the infamous pirate Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla). https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local-news/the-legend-of-jose-gaspar-and-the-history-of-gasparilla. The story is captivating and makes the area even more intriguing. In his honour they host a parade and festival that’s the place to be in late January (canceled this year of course).

We wind up at the end for a coffee Latino style in a cafe/cigar making and smoking venue. A tiny place with oversized leather chairs and humongous Corona cigar ashtrays. You can watch the cigar making process as you lounge or take a peek into the humidor for a variety of options.

All in all a really interesting and enjoyable afternoon. Next time we come we will try out the street car trolley that chugs from Ybor City to River Walk in downtown Tampa. And enjoy dinner at the Columbia Restaurant https://www.columbiarestaurant.com. There’s more to see and do … we will be back!

Rudy in front of Mr Ybor statue
Visitors Centre
The Castle nightclub
Gaspars Grotto
Mural honouring the rooster 🐓
Gaspars Grotto
9-11 memorial

Mother Nature

Sometimes our world is a thing of beauty. These days it may be more difficult to stop and notice given the challenges and frustrations people are facing. I’m glad to be retired. Retirees have, generally speaking, the time and place to “stop and smell the roses”. Today was one of those days.

We had little on the agenda until later in the day. Our friends invited us for dinner and a sunset boat cruise, so we had the day to kick back. Normally we are on the go either to the gym or pickleball or golf or biking and we return home mid afternoon only to head out again in the evening. But today we did nothing for a change.

After a neighbourhood walk with Molly and a light breakfast, we took our reading material outside with our drinks (coffee) and settled into the loungers. It was hot and sunny with a gentle warm breeze. Typical of what we’ve come to expect. When you sit still for a moment you have a chance to clear your mind. Watch the clouds melt through the sky. Feel the sun on your skin like a warm blanket. Hear the birds (everything is mating!). It’s a cleansing feeling. Sigh.

I marvel at the little lizards as they scurry around the lanai (outside thankfully). There’s a bunny rabbit that’s been frequenting the side yard (don’t tell Molly!) and there’s plenty of food in the buffet. The birds are incredible; lots of different species. And everything is in full bloom. The colours of bougainvillea and azaleas and other tropical plants is vivid like 1960’s wallpaper.

At 3:30 pm we make our way after walking and feeding Molly. Our boat cruise and dinner is in Winter Haven which is a 20 to 30 minute drive. We arrive at Harbourside Restaurant where our group is waiting for us on the outdoor patio next to the canal and lake. The specialty of the place is seafood. Go figure. I have the early bird special which is grilled salmon with a baked potato and house salad. No disappointment here.

Our sunset cruise departs at 6 pm. There’s 8 of us so there’s four in front and four in the rear of the pontoon boat. The sun is still high and hot so I’m grateful for my sun hat. We set off to the canal and a tour that was very educational; our captain was well informed and shared her insights throughout the voyage. There are over 20 lakes on the “chain of lakes” system and they were connected by man made canals and locks in order to transport citrus fruit (the main industry in the area years before) to the railroad. These are fresh water lakes that vary in depth so smaller crafts with less draw are ideal. Hence the pontoon boats that are so popular. The citrus was transported on barges.

Aside from citrus the lakes are home to the former Cypress Gardens which is now Legoland (a family amusement park). But they kept some of the former assets such as the botanical gardens and the waterski show. The area around the park is a waterski haven and there are ramps and buoys to be seen. The jungle like shoreline is full of cypress and palm trees and many are loaded with Spanish Moss. Cypress trees are protected in Florida as they are slow growers and only grow well in water. One member of our group said that when buying real estate watch for homes with cypress trees as the trees will be under water in the rainy season. Yikes. Good to know!

In addition to the amazing homes and trees along the shoreline, the bird watching is intense. Our guide took us to the nesting areas and Mother Nature put on a show for us that made our night. Huge nests, many fashioned out of twigs and moss, were numerous in the trees. It’s mating season and so many of the nests had babies in them with one or both parents hovering nearby. The views were breathtaking and heartwarming. In one area there was an osprey momma sitting in her nest. The guide said by getting close with the boat we would anger the mom and she would summon the male. When the mom squawked we waited and within seconds the male swooped in and circled overhead. It was amazing to see how the male protected the nest and his partner. When we pulled away he stopped his circling and joined his mate in the nest. It was beautiful to watch.

The sunset is postcard worthy. As we cruise towards the sunset on our final leg back to the dock it occurs to me that life is good. Very good. I drift for a moment to think about how lucky we are to have such an amazing experience. To be on a cruise with the warm summer breeze caressing our faces and enjoying the best that Mother Nature has to offer.

We cap the evening off with an ice cream from Andy’s which is a local landmark. They even had maple walnut. Sweet.

Gator lounging on the dock
Thick moss
Lake house
Andy’s menu

Til death do us part

Today we lost a legend. Rudy and I might be the operations people behind Liaison College, but Chef Mick was the Chef. This morning he succumbed to https://www.webmd.com/brain/what-is-creutzfeldt-jakob-disease a super rare disease. We are in shock.

When Liaison College started in 1996, there was a need for trained chefs and cooks. The food network had become a must watch station and culinary arts was getting traction. In 1998 we were approached by a mild mannered Brit who had a superb culinary background. Including such highlights as apprenticeship under Anton Mossiman in England at the Dorchester and cooking for the Queen and the German Olympic team in 1988. Hello Chef Mick; aka Michael Elliott.

Things were never the same after Chef Mick came on board. He was a culinary champion and his students did everything to earn his respect. He was the consummate trainer who always put his students needs first. They loved him and thrived under his tutelage. He inspired budding culinarians to be their best and he won many competitions as a coach. His trademark sayings were legendary among students and alumni.

His life was devoted to culinary arts until he met the love of his life and together they achieved the excellence and success they earned and deserved. For many years they built their dreams into reality and created a successful business and also a loving family. It was an absolute pleasure to watch them grow and thrive.

Chef Mick took on every role with gusto. His gentle, easy way was magic with those he interacted with on any level. Everyone respected and admired him. I interviewed one of his graduates for a magazine article and she told me how he inscribed her text book at graduation and she has it proudly on display in her bakery. As she spoke about Chef Mick she smiled as she recounted anecdotes about her experiences with him as her instructor. I was so proud of her. And him.

One year for our Christmas party I arranged a car tour to the other campuses. To have a bit of fun I played “name that tune” with an 80’s CD I had in my car. Chef Mick, unbeknownst to me, was an 80’s aficionado and aced the quiz. We laughed about it for a long time because one of the songs was https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0aqLwHP4y6Q

I have many fond memories of Chef Mick. Too many to recall here. Enough to make me feel the tremendous loss that today brings. Chef Mick loved culinary but he loved and cherished his family more. He will leave a void in the life of his four children and his beloved wife. I hope they, like so many others touched by him, will find some comfort in the wonderful memories left behind. I’m grateful for the time we had to enjoy Chef Mick. Thanks for the memories.

Godspeed, Chef. Heaven now has a new standard of food. Now it’s sexy.

The Venice of Florida

Today we grabbed our friends and enjoyed a lively double date in Winter Park. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here three months already! My laundry list of places I want to check out is still pretty long. One got the check mark and it was dandy.

The Scenic Tours of Winter Park are (according to our witty guide) the second oldest tourist attraction in Florida. They started in 1938 (with different boats of course) and have been a must do since then. We aren’t beach dwellers and prefer the proximity to golf courses and other activities than hanging at the beach. That’s a change for us since we are on permanent vacation rather than trying to soak up as much sun and sand as we can in a week off. So our idea of water is on one of the numerous (and I mean hundreds) of fresh water lakes.

The tour of the Winter Park canals and lakes is referred to as the Venice of Florida. And the weather was stellar at about 27C and sunny. We gather at the docks in the heart of WP (Winter Park) and join dozens of others who have chosen the same outing. Tours leave every hour and there are 4 or 5 pontoon boats which can hold about 12 passengers plus the captain. They run a well oiled machine getting people off and on the boats in record time. We shove off and the tour is underway. https://www.scenicboattours.com

The tour includes two lakes and two canals. The views of the lakefront mansions is breathtaking and a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Uber wealthy. The homes and gardens surrounding them are truly magnificent; magazine worthy. The guide gives us tidbits of trivia along the way and mentions that the home owners (many are known celebrities) are grateful for their privacy. They appreciate that the tour isn’t a Hollywood map of the stars. The most we got was “that’s an NBA player and he added a 20,000 square foot addition to accommodate an indoor basketball court”. One of the homes was under construction and will be (at 40,000+ square feet) the largest in the lake and will include a movie theatre, bowling alley and gun range. Really.

After the tour we headed into WP for a bite to eat and a cold drink. We ended up at an al fresco resto on Park Ave which is the main drag in town. https://310restaurant.com It is a fashion show in every sense: amazing cars, designer clothes on leisurely shoppers, flower pots brimming with colourful plants. A truly enchanting village setting with a picturesque train station and park area that’s manicured to the nines. Not to mention the shops: an eclectic selection of boutiques, eateries, wine and cocktail venues, a few brand name stores such as Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma, a cigar lounge and humidor (buy a stogie and smoke it in the lounge if you like). Basically a grand place to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

Our lunch was delightful and the best part was the view of the bustling sidewalk and road traffic. We savour the ambience and the conversation. But at the end we part ways: gentlemen exit stage left for the cigar lounge and ladies make off for the shops. My friend bought a kimono here last year and was hoping to recreate the vibe; she is not disappointed. There’s a great selection AND they are on sale. Bonus. We make our way down the street and stop in to the shops that are inviting of which there are many. Finally we return to the cigar lounge where we find the men enjoying their stogies and having met a new friend. He’s also puffing away (something he says is a daily event) and we find out some interesting things about him. He lives in one of the homes on the lake we cruised. He has annual trips to Calgary with his polo team. He thinks Cuban cigars are overrated (spoken like someone who’s country had them outlawed for years). All in all a very nice unassuming gentleman who was clearly in a financial stratosphere beyond our galaxy.

Cigars done we make our way via car to our final pit stop of the day. Lombardis Seafood. https://lombardis.com At Lombardis you can literally feel like you’re at the sea. They have every type of briny delight including our favourite (and reason for stopping in) Florida stone crabs. We try to indulge at least once while we are in Florida. We were first introduced to this delicacy by our friends who wintered here for years before us. Since then we’ve been hooked. The sweet crab meat is buried in the most hard thick shell ;aka stone??) that the fish monger busts with a hammer in store if you want. It’s typically served with a yummy mustard sauce. Delicious!!

We wrap our day revelling at the fabulous weather and the freedom to have done what we did. Florida; fuck yeah!!

Notice the black birds … they are pelicans!

One Man’s Castle

They say that everyone has their ideal castle. In the case of Howard Solomon it is clear. He built the castle of his dreams. Now it’s on show for anyone who wants to visit.

I think I would have enjoyed meeting Howard. He sounds like an interesting bird. His castle is a reflection of his dreams and that makes him all the more interesting.

Our friends are always trying to show us around Florida. We bike and walk the sights and scenes. When they invited us to see Solomon’s Castle we were on board as usual (we rarely turn them down). It sounded intriguing. We had no expectations and if you search on line there’s very little to glean.

Our private tour (we are a group of ten as our hosts are mindful of distancing) starts at 10 am. we are 90 min away so we have to be on the road at 8:30. That’s early for us … we savour our bed time. But Rudy sets the alarm (secretly I think he likes the early wake ups especially when it’s on someone else’s schedule) and we start the process. It’s a slow go for me. I’d rather stay in bed. But we muster. Ugh.

I snooze on the ride there. Our destination is Ona Florida and there’s no major highways to get there. It’s a scenic route to the middle of nowhere. We pull into the parking lot and our group is gathering. There’s our regular friends and another couple from St Pete’s. The husband is a retired oncologist; he’s had his vaccinations so I find his constant cough annoying rather than threatening. When we walk from the parking area to the ticket office it occurs to me that we are in a weird place.

There’s a castle which looks like it’s made from tinfoil and beyond it is a ship (I would describe it as a mini Noah’s ark) and other buildings behind it. Mr Solomon had a vision and we were in the midst of it. Our tour guide met us at the castle door which was flanked by knights in metal holding swords. We stepped inside the foyer as she pointed out the handmade stain glass windows all depicting nursery rhymes. I liked the cow jumping over the moon. As we stood in the main front room it occurred to me that there was zero natural light and a dank (think moist basement) odour. Our guide tells us that the place is set directly on swamp land beside a creek. When the property was purchased in the month of March many years ago, it was dry and lush. When the rainy season came the creek filled and flooded the property. The guide lamented the various hurricanes that caused water to rise and fill the castle. “See the water marks on the wall? ….”. Totally explained the smell.

Each room was filled with the whimsical creations of the artist using wood and assorted scraps of metal and other junk. As a cabinet maker by trade he used a lot of wood. His wooden paintings were very intricate and elaborate in some cases. According to our guide she was reciting the tour spiel in accordance with the artists written directives. It turns out he had a quirky sense of humour and especially liked to play on words. For example he created a cow sculpture using scrap metal; the udder was a gear wheel (round with notched outer edge and a hole in the middle). The hole was there so the cow could produce “whole” milk. Groan. There were many of these puns throughout the tour. The artist was very particular and in control of every aspect.

We wind through his house (which is now a museum curated by his children) and each room is cluttered with punny creations. The mans mind moved quickly and in staccato as evidenced by the pieces ranging from tiny statues to giant sized animals weighing in excess of 400 lbs! Quite breathtaking and disturbing at the same time. This artist held down full time work and managed commissioned art pieces and personal projects in between. Apparently he couldn’t sit still. Ever.

After the first tour segment we went to “the boat” for lunch. You could eat on the boat or in the jungle grotto outside which we chose. The menu offered a wide range of comfort food items. It was as delicious as expected and the desserts were heavenly. After lunch, propelled by our new energy, we walked to the “barn” for the second part of the tour. As we walked through the open pasture (yes, there’s animals and stuff) I realized what a sunny hot day it was. The blazing sun was baking us at 31C.

At the barn we are ushered inside (whew there’s ac) to the first chamber. It turns out that Mr Solomon was, in addition to his artistic flair, also an astute business man. He predicted the crash of 2008 and liquidated all of his stocks to purchase antique cars. He only purchased those carefully restored to their natural state. Wow. Scattered among the room are also model airplanes and other modes of transport built by the artist. In his typical punny way, he created a “bar car” – literally a car with the back seat set up to display bottles of booze. Clever.

There were about 12 cars in total and some of them had license plates. Some had crank shafts! And a couple had rumble seats (also known as the mother in law seat because of the general discomfort … your mother in law would only want to try it once!) The earliest Fords were only available in one colour: black. Then years later 4 other colours were added. It was an interesting lesson in the progression of Ford (the artists personal favourite) auto manufacturing.

At the end of the tour we part ways with our group. Some of them are heading on to the phosphate museum. Apparently it was a big industry in the day. Unfortunately (fortunately) we had to go home to our girl Molly.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

It’s the Little Things

There’s definitely a retirement brain mode. I used to laugh at my folks when they could only handle one thing a day like a doctors appointment or a car repair. But now I find myself in a similar boat; trying to schedule several non-routine events in one day spells epic fail. The retirement mindset is a gentle ripple compared to the tsunami of working life. How did we tackle such monumental hurdles every single day? When now a lunch date is all we can manage?

Of course there’s times when you have to juggle a few balls because things keep rolling along even if you are practically standing still. Even though my sister is totally handling my parents needs (while she holds down a very busy full time job!) there are a few things that I can help with from afar. Funny how one little thing turns into a part time job that sucks. Here’s the scenario:

My dad has been unable to enjoy reading for some time due to cataracts. He had one eye done a couple of years ago by a crochety doctor who treats patients with disdain (that nasty bedside manner filters down to his staff who are also rude and abrupt). Then comes covid and any hope of the second eye being done vanish in a puff of plandemic smoke. My dad complains (quietly but consistently) about getting dizzy because his vision is lopsided. I take him to the regular eye doctor and we inquire about options. It seems that the CCP flu only affects public hospitals and that private (fee payer) clinics are moving right along as usual. So I get a list of names and my sister follows up. Dad gets an appointment to see a doctor a few weeks later and surgery is scheduled shortly thereafter. A big difference from the 18 month wait and endless recalls with the public system that’s “free” and which my dad still has “floaters” from the first procedure. Anyway, that’s another story.

So dad gets the surgery and all systems are go. He can now read again! This new found super power means he needs reading material; a good time to get the local paper delivery again. My sister asks me to make the arrangements. No problem ; it’s the least I can do. I fire up my laptop (which has developed cobwebs) and search for Stratford Beacon Herald subscriptions on Duck Duck Go (I’ve also ditched Google along with Facebook, but that’s another story). There’s a super easy user friendly portal to “subscribe now!” I complete the online forms and submit using my Amex card to pay for 6 months. I get the email confirmation and let my folks and sister know. My “one thing if the day” was pretty simple. Mission accomplished.

After getting the newspaper for a couple of days, instead of the paper my parents get an invoice. For seniors who don’t control their money much anymore, getting a notice to pay is like a punch in the gut. On top of the invoice they also got phone calls. Another slap. They report to my sister and my sister let’s me know. What’s going on? I go back on line only to discover that the ease to sign up and pay is not mirrored if you have a problem. Now the process is tricky and complicated. I finally find a contact us mechanism and I type out my concerns. I call the number listed and leave my number. Then I wait.

I get a call from an Ottawa area code a day or two later (funny how these calls never come at your convenience but at theirs) Finally, someone to get somewhere. I explain the situation. Oh, she says, I see it here … we don’t accept Amex as a method of payment. Now my usual auto response kicks in: anger. This unsuspecting phone agent is going to get a blast. First of all, how is it remotely possible that I got an email confirmation telling me all was good (and papers started to arrive as proof) and that rather than respond via email they choose to harass by invoice and then phone? I demand that my parents be taken off the call list immediately and that my information be inserted as the billing contact. I use another credit card to pay (again) and I am assured that the matter is settled and taken care of. I spent 30 minutes on the phone to get this done; between ranting and “can I put you on a quick hold” and the automated credit card system not working …. ugh.

I report to my sister who empathizes but doesn’t have time to listen to my one thing of the day complaints. The paper should start to flow again. But it does not. I’m back to square one.

This time I check my credit card statement on line to see if the payment was processed. It was. I go through the labyrinth of contact us with no luck. I call the Ottawa area code number again. It rings. I have a person after waiting in the queue. Sorry she tells me, we don’t handle the Stratford paper distribution here, you have to call Stratford. So I do. There’s a company directory option but I don’t know who to call. The option for distribution is a robot message with no further actions possible. So I called the number most likely to answer the phone: sales. Bingo. I get a young lady on the phone who provides me with a name and number for distribution. Sorry she can’t transfer me as they are working from home. Fine. I call the new contact. Voice mail. A while later (again not at my convenience) I hear from Barb in distribution.

She can’t find our records. What’s the address again? What’s the name? Who’s name is on the account? What phone number is associated with the account? Are you sure you have a subscription? At this point I’m losing my marbles. Has retirement brain caused me to hallucinate and make the whole Ottawa call up?? Just as I’m about to explode she says: oh, here you are. They put you in as an apt number and all the others in the building are units. That’s the issue. WTF???

Great! I say. Can we fix the problem? Yes. She assures me that she will contact the carrier (she’s a new girl… just young.. but very reliable as her mother drives her everyday … Really?? I don’t care!!). Whew. Another 40 minutes but hopefully this is the cure.

The paper is put at the door of each unit/apt in the building who subscribe. I’ve seen it many times when visiting. Mom just opens the door and the papers there. However I’ve also seen it in the front lobby on the coffee table; a nice pile of papers like you might find in a hotel for guests. I think nothing of it until my sister lets me know (again) that the paper was absent.

I immediately call Barb. Voicemail. While I’m waiting in the lobby of the osteopathic clinic my phone rings. It’s Barb. Very inconvenient to say the least. She now explains to me that the carrier (sweet young girl with the helicopter mom) is not allowed in the building (building rules) so she leaves the bundle with unit/apt clearly marked on the front of each in the foyer. Someone from the building (there are several possible busy bodies that could be the suspect) takes the papers and either delivers them to the front door of the unit/apt or leaves them in a pile on the lobby coffee table. Oh. Good to know.

I let my parents know. If the paper is not at your doorstep then you have to go to the lobby. My mother then confesses to taking someone’s from their door since she’s entitled. Oops. Basically, from where I am, there is no way for me to manage this except to hold my breath and ask everyday during my daily call. Of course there’s no way to confirm their answers.

All this for a mediocre flimsy newspaper. No. Scratch that. All this because my dad can read. Worth all the agony. It’s the little things.

Note: I can’t wait to get back to Stratford when the travelling incarceration debacle ends and personally visit the Beacon office (if it’s open) and declare my displeasure. Hopefully without a mask on so they can see my facial expressions. but. Alas. I think I’m hallucinating again …. thank god for cheap wine.

Love is in the Air ♥️

February is a month of love thanks to Valentines Day on the 14th. It’s nice to have a loving feeling in the midst of winter. Especially when it includes chocolate! In our family, February brings a flurry of birthdays and other notable events.

Starting on February 2 (Groundhog Day) which is Rudy’s moms birthday. She was born in Krakow Poland in 1922. That would make her 99 tomorrow. Unfortunately she passed away 6 years ago. I think she would have enjoyed being 99; she had a zest for life and loved every minute. On her birthday I would call her and ask if she’d seen her shadow (referencing the annual ritual of groundhogs). She would giggle and tell me I was a riot. More often than not she would say it was too cold to go outside. But mostly she played along and told me winter would be short. It was wishful thinking! We reminisce about her often … there are always so many reminders of her: cooking, baseball, roses, long walks … In her humble way she had such an impact on our lives.

February 8 marks a sad one year anniversary of my uncle’s passing. Heinz was 89 when he slipped quietly into the universe. My dads older and only sibling was a hardworking family man who enjoyed the outdoors and his wood working. He survived many sawing incidents before succumbing to cancer. He leaves a void that is still painful for his widow and my dad. I’m glad the legacy of the family home he built from scratch will remain in the family since my cousin bought it late last year. My uncle’s passing is also my cousin Barbs birthday; Heinz’s daughter was taken at a young age (her boys were tweens) by cancer. I’m sure they are both together keeping a watchful eye on everyone.

Following grandma’s birthday is my dad and my aunt. They share Valentine’s Day for their birthday. My dad will turn 89 and my aunt will be 70. My dad is still a young man at heart 💜 and has such a positive attitude about everything. It’s hard to believe that he’s almost 90. But I know he’s aiming for 100. Dad is the patriarch of our family and enjoys the success of his kids; he often tells me how grateful and proud he is of us. Our happiness is his biggest joy.

And immediately following is my uncle Peters birthday. He will also be turning 70. As the youngest of my moms brothers (he was born when she was 16!) he was a late addition since my grandmother was 43 and my grandfather was 53. Peter is a journalist and is the epitome of “enquiring minds”. His thirst for knowledge and information is insatiable. Now retired from his profession he keeps his pen moving by writing interesting historical pieces about Germany and his childhood home.

Valentine’s Day is also Rudy’s parents wedding anniversary. In 1942, mid WWII, they got hitched. It was a true love story that would span almost 8 decades. A year after their wedding, on February 17, 1943 they gave birth to Rudy’s oldest sister, Carole. Rudy’s parents received congratulations letters from all levels of government on their marriage milestones. It’s not many who can celebrate 70+ years of wedded bliss!

February is a short month. As I flipped the page on our calendar this morning to make note of some events we have scheduled, I realized it was barely 4 weeks in the month. Perhaps by design or intent the calendar gurus knew that a mid winter month should breeze by to make way for spring. Of course, in Florida, it’s already spring judging by the weather. Now we will also see the days getting longer as the sun moves north.

It is my hope that the world embraces the month of love as was the intent. More love is a good thing to have right now. I’m so grateful for the love in my life. Rudy, Molly, my parents, my sister and brother, good friends. Family that has left us too soon but never forgotten.

Spread the love 💕 vibes!

It’s a Date!

For the past year you may have regretted taking a few simple things for granted: hugs, smiling faces, hustle and bustle, and a good old fashioned date. Life in Florida resembles a more normal life, but face masks still hide the smiles we crave. However, date night is possible! So off we went… it was exciting to plan and fun to execute, too.

We spend our winters (this is our third) in central Florida. It’s an area dotted with fresh water lakes (Chain of Lakes) and lots of green spaces. While we are about 40 min to Orlando, the closest (and by far our regular go to) is Lakeland. It’s about 100k in population and, as the name would imply, has tons of lakes. They embrace the lakes and have created interesting vignettes around them such as walking paths, bird sanctuary, art installations and historical tours. Frank Lloyd Wright is a very prominent figure in the landscape and enthusiasts can enjoy his works throughout. Detroit Tigers play their spring ball in Lakeland; the stadium is ideal. The more we do there the more we find to do. So date night featured Lakeland.

Timing is a major consideration for us. Lakeland is about a 30 min drive (we can take a few minutes longer if we choose the back road instead of the Hwy). The timing revolves around Molly. She walks twice a day (for a poop … she won’t go in the yard) and her schedule is fairly rigid: when she gets up in the morning and again at around 4 pm). You can practically set your watch by her routines. The other consideration is our own bedtime; we are not late nighters anymore with the odd exception (guests or special occasion). So our target zone for events is limited. Date night would be 5 pm to 11 pm fitting our parameters.

We started with dinner. Reservations at 5:45 pm at the https://mojobbq.com/locations/mojo-federal/ Mojo Federal Swine and Spirits. As I mentioned, downtown Lakeland is historic and the resto was in a repurposed building featuring exposed bricks and open ceilings. As soon as you walked in there was a tantalizing aroma of smoke. The place was lively and busy with tables and a huge bar ( where we both agreed we would return to again … we like sitting at the bar and absorb the vibe). We’ve been getting used to eating our main meal midday so we don’t like to pig out at supper time, but watching the plates of food roll out it was tempting to go hog wild. (My pig puns are intended)

We started with a beer and fried dill pickle chips. They were served with a tangy dip that was yummy! For our mains I ordered the Mojo pulled pork salad and Rudy had the shrimp. Most entrees come with side dishes and Rudy chose coleslaw and beans. When a nearby table got their onion rings I was envious …. huge thick rings battered and piled high on the plate. My mouth is watering as I type. The pork on my salad was perfect; just the right amount of fat and smoke. I enjoyed every bite.

After dinner we walked over to the https://www.polktheatre.org/ Polk Theatre. We’ve been here before. It’s a historic theatre built almost 100 years ago. There’s mezzanine and balcony seating. They screen classic old movies and have themes each month. This months theme was under the sea. Our feature film was “Dead Calm” with Nicole Kidman and Sam Neal. We hadn’t seen it in years; it’s a nail biter. The theatre seats several hundred; there were 7 tickets sold for our show. It was like a private screening! The theatre is manned by volunteers; there’s a box office at the front, a live organist who entertains you pre-show and a concession stand. Tickets were $5 each.

At the end of the show we walked back over to Tennessee Ave for a nightcap at http://lakelandloft.com/ Lakeland Loft. This is a second floor space decked out with chandeliers and tin ceilings and ornate furniture. Like you’ve gone back in time to a wealthy southern establishment with stuffy red leather chairs and private rooms with Juliette balconies. A huge marble bar is the central feature aside from the walk-in cigar humidor and glass enclosed wine room. This is where smoking inside while sipping a libation and listening to live jazz (weekends) is the norm. We love it here!

We take our seats at the bar and order (Campari soda for me and scotch for Rudy). Then Rudy heads over to the humidor where he chooses a stogie. The attendant cuts and lights it for him. each place at the bar has a giant crystal ashtray. As we drink, smoke and enjoy the music it occurs to me that we could not be doing this anywhere else. And I’m suddenly grateful for the opportunity knowing that we can’t take it for granted.

Date night ends as we drive home under a full moon. Molly greets us at the door with a concerned bark: where the heck have you been?? I take her out for a bedtime pee and marvel at the clear warm night and celestial showcase.

As we drift off to sleep we are thankful for simple pleasures.

It’s my Party

Birthdays are weird. It’s a milestone every year you only pass once in a lifetime. I suppose everyone has their own take on how to mark the day. Some even (mostly Leos) mark the whole month. Each to his own.

In reflection, a January birthday has been challenging over the years. As a kid, weather was prohibitive from time to time; you couldn’t play all the regular party games since you were confined indoors. And a bit later, like highschool, it’s exam time and you get lost in the cramming frenzy. Then birthdays seem to lose their luster for a few years as your career and life get too hectic right after Christmas break. And every year it falls right around the time they declare the “saddest day of the year”. Yikes!

Yesterday, by all measurements, was a great day. It was sunny and warm. Rudy walked Molly. I lingered in bed. Then we took off for pickleball. We returned midday and enjoyed a light lunch al fresco. Followed by a relaxing stint by the pool including a nap. There’s something about the warm sun like a soothing cozy blanket that induces slumber. Aahhh. Then a few deliveries arrived.

A big basket of pamper me supplies including bubbly, chocolates, bath bombs… an ideal kit for a chronic bather! Thanks to my sister who diligently arranges family gifts on behalf of everyone. It’s her knack. It’s nice being on the receiving end. Then the florist came again. I say again because Rudy had a dozen gorgeous roses delivered a day ago. Today’s delivery was a stunning arrangement in light pink and white from my friend ShariLee. A really nice surprise!!

Then we had a zoom call with our friends in Wasaga Beach. It was nice to see happy, familiar faces. We chatted about life in Florida (everyone is always so shocked to learn there’s no bodies in the streets and life is pretty normal … darn media!) versus life in lockdown. No one is obeying all the orders and continue to have secret social gatherings of 2 or 4 people. They put groceries in their trunk in case they are pulled over?? They drive to other places to take a walk and stay on the lookout for cops who are ticketing rogues. Too bad our governing bodies didn’t invest as much time and resources into helping seniors in lockdown as they do in manning snitch lines and penalizing those trying to stay sane.

After the call we headed to a local restaurant for dinner. We don’t go out much and I was really looking forward to prime rib at Mannys. It’s a local chop house that’s always packed. They have happy hour from 4 pm to 7 pm. and an early bird menu up to 6 pm. We hit the wheelhouse. You start with 2 for 1 drinks and then they bring a huge bowl of salad to the table. It’s a real treat! By the time we leave, I can feel the manhattans doing a tango in my gut with the prime rib. We aren’t used to big meals and hard liquor! I guess I’m becoming a lightweight.

On our drive home friends called on FaceTime and we had a nice chat. Again the topic was lockdown and what you do to keep busy. It appears that walking in new trails is the top choice. Sadly they too talked about police presence and fear of reprisal. It was a short call as time was pressuring me to make my daily call to my parents.

My mom is usually in bed by 8 pm so if I don’t call in time she misses the conversation (which I’m positive she keeps track of somewhere like notches in the bedpost). My dad answers and they are both on speaker phone. It’s a challenge when they talk at the same time. Dad tells me they talked about my birth 57 years ago. I was a morning baby. The hospital called my dad at work to let him know he had a daughter; he could come after work to see, not sooner, so mom could rest. Times sure have changed. I asked mom if she was exhausted and needed the rest. No way she says; in that age you didn’t get exhausted. Mädle! I told them about my day and all the goodies and fun calls. My dad, his voice cracking, said he wished me a wonderful day and hoped I was happy. Hearing his sad voice, of course, made me want to cry. I assured them I had the best day.

There were also a ton of texts, emails and other messages (Rudy’s going to post a general thank you on Facebook since I’ve been off for almost a year) which made my day. I told my parents that so many people remembered my birthday that it was overwhelming and humbling. My uncle in Germany wrote the nicest email. My step kids both sent endearing messages. Friends far and wide chimed in. I feel special. Thank you 😊

Another year in the vault.


My mom checks the mail everyday. Sometimes she’s checks it twice or more if she’s forgotten she’s already done so. Getting mail is a big thing these days. I suppose when there isn’t any she thinks she needs to try again. Same result. Disappointment. Even when I’m there, mom will have her internal alarm clock ding at the time she needs to check the mail. She suddenly announces that it’s time and off she goes. When there’s something to bring back it’s like she’s accomplished a major feat. She’s useful and has been productive. How strange it must be to her (in her lucid mind) that her once sharp intelligence is now a faint memory and has been replaced with confusion and frustration. And collecting mail is a major accomplishment.

Rudy bought me postcards so I could mail them out regularly. Today I mailed my first one. I talk to my folks everyday except when my sister is there. Don’t want to overload the fragile sensory apple cart. So I sat at the breakfast table and thought about what to say. We catch up on the mundane every time we speak… what was had for meals is a good topic. It’s a reminder of how my moms brain is dysfunctioning (is that a word? It should be). I ask mom they had for lunch. Dad answers usually while mom is adjusting her thinking cap. When I ask if she liked it, the response can be utterly amusing.

Lately she’s been accusing dad of not shopping and therefore they aren’t eating. Dad assures me this is false but she’s so sincere I can see how professionals dealing with clients like my mom are thrown off track. My sister tells me that mom has been talking about baking cakes and making soup. These are crazy flashbacks from many years ago. It startled me to realize how long she’s been in cognitive decline and how we have adjusted and adapted. Like it’s normal. Apparently she also tried to clean the oven (even though it’s self cleaning). It seems as though her memories are firmly planted in the kitchen and around food.

So I jotted a short blurb about the weather on the postcard and popped in the mailbox. I thought to myself what her reaction will be when she collects from her box in the future. I sent her a birthday card. It was a cartoon depicting an animated kid yelling for their mom (there’s a whole inside family joke about my brother who used to yell for mom …. another time perhaps…) my dad told me he had to read it to mom several times. He said she liked it. I’m wondering if she forgot he read it to her before. Either way, it was a cute and funny card that she grasped the meaning of. A good memory.

I will send out a postcard every week or two. Rudy has me well stocked. Last week I sent flowers for their anniversary. 1959. 62 years. When the delivery came to their door they were surprised. They read the card which said “happy anniversary”. Still surprised. They had no idea it was January 7. No idea it was their anniversary. Next time I will warn them by sending a postcard.

Cherish every moment.

Leu Gardens – Dazzling Lights instalment